Etymotic Research is a company most percussionists have heard of. Lately they've been making waves in the press and their adopt-a-band program has been promoting hearing protection to young musicians all over the country. Even my favorite tech blog, The Verge, has a ton of coverage. Recently Rhythm X, along with many other ensembles like us, partnered with Etymotic to provide our members with their simple and highly effective ETY•Plugs®. We like them so much you can even buy them on The X Store with the new X logo on the case!
While their ETY•Plugs® are the go-to product for performing musicians, concert goers, and anyone who understands the damage a loud environment can do, Etymotic provides a solution that takes hearing protection to a new level. The Music•PRO High-Definition Electronic Earplugs are an electronic earplug that allows you to hear naturally at normal levels until sounds of a dangerous level occur. The beauty of these earplugs is that you are provided with the exact amount of protection needed but only when you need it.
For the last three weeks Ensemble Director Tim Fairbanks and I have been using the Music•PRO plugs in both Rhythm X rehearsals and with the other groups we work with. I think I speak for Tim when I say that the greatest asset of these plugs for a music teacher is that you simply don't remember they're there. Everyone who has worn earplugs knows well the frustration of having to remove earplugs to have a conversation comfortably or to hear something that is skewed with the earplugs in. With these earplugs those problems disappear.
Perhaps more importantly, when listening to the ensemble (Rhythm X in this case) you are never aware that the sounds you are hearing have been altered. In my opinion that makes these earplugs perfect for performing musicians, music directors, live audio personnel and the fastidious concert goer. When sounds gradually become dangerous the earplugs gradually lower the volume and when loud sounds such as cymbal crashes or a rimshot happen out of nowhere, the earplugs somehow adapt instantly. I never experienced any clipping, lag, or feedback.
The earplugs have two modes. One is natural hearing at normal levels and 15-dB protection at loud levels. The other, which Etymotic calls Enhanced Hearing mode, provides a 6dB increase in hearing at soft levels and 9-dB protection. While I have only used the Enhanced Hearing mode a couple of times, I found it nice with smaller ensembles and for activities besides drumline where I needed hearing protection. A small switch on the back of the unit changes the mode. You'll find the battery door (which also acts as the power switch) on the back as well. Just make sure you don't loose the batteries!
The earplugs come with a nice case, cleaning gear, and a nicely flexible clear neck-cord. They also come with a huge variety of earpieces to fit your liking. Tim and I both opted for the familiar three-flange fitting found on the ETY•Plugs® and pretty much every in-ear headphone and earplug on the market. If you'd like more comfort and some customization you can use an audiologist in Etymotic's network to have custom ear-molds made. While I find no major issues with the three-flange fitting, this may be something I opt for in the future. Still, an assortment of one-size-fits all fittings for an earplug of this stature is a great feature.
All together, I feel much more comfortable with the future of my hearing because I have these earplugs. I never feel hesitant about wearing them like I did with other, less adaptive earplugs. I don't have issues hearing at conversational levels and my own voice sounds natural when I'm speaking. At $399/pair the earplugs certainly aren't cheap but they're way cheaper than hearing aids and a ruined career. I would recommend them to any band director, instructor, or audio engineer.